Failing grades dwindle

Ashland High School wants to send kids the message "We won't let you fail," says Principal Jeff Schlecht.

Two after-school programs started last year have helped cut the number of freshmen failing at least one class in half, from 87 students, or 28.6 percent of the 2005-06 freshman class, to 41 students, or 14.2 percent of last year's class. The number of students failing multiple classes also dropped significantly.

"We're really focusing in on freshman because that's a gateway to the rest of high school," Schlecht said.

One program focuses on study skills, and the other on reading.

Students in the study skills program are recommended by their middle school teachers, and additional students enter the class when teachers notice they're struggling. The program meets twice a week, on days when school is dismissed at 1:45 p.m.. Students stay until 3:30 p.m. to learn how to study for high school classes, get homework help and gain confidence asking teachers for help.

"It really is for kids who have a lot of ability," said Brenda Paustian, who runs the study skills program. "A lot of times they're just nervous or shy about talking to an adult."

Sophomore Chloe Bair attended the program all last year, and she said her study habits changed as a result.

"Sometimes I would put it off or wait to the last minute the night before," she said. Once she was in the class, she got most of her homework done before she went home.

"I study a lot better now," she said.

Once students earn all As and Bs on their six-week progress report, they are free to stop attending, although some continue to seek the extra help. Although the program expanded for some sophomores last semester, it focuses primarily on freshmen.

"Once they move into their sophomore year, I have to be pretty confident they can make it," Paustian said.

Tackling reading

The second after school program, started mid-way through last year, targets freshmen who didn't pass their eighth grade reading assessment, regardless of the grades they are earning.

"There were some kids getting As and Bs but still struggled with reading," said Julie Inada, a reading coach who runs the program.

She teaches students to apply reading skills in all of their classes, reading for content and developing strategies to remember and analyze what they read, skills that can get overlooked in the transition from reading to literature classes.

"Just because you're a good reader in third grade doesn't mean you're going to be a good reader in high school," Inada said.

Like the study skills program, students can "graduate" from the program once they show significant improvement and a commitment to reading independently.

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